New Bible Study Guide Launched for Millennials

Marcos Torres, who pastors in Western Australia, has created The Road to tell the story of Jesus in a way that appeals to secular young people who don't know anything about religion.

Question: You have created The Road: A Journey through the Narrative of Scripture, a new Adventist Bible study set designed to reach millennials and post-moderns, and it is just out. What does it look like? Is it a book with questions at the end of every chapter?

Answer: The Road is a new Adventist Bible study set that reframes Adventism linguistically, conceptually, and aesthetically for emerging secular generations. It has a clean, minimalistic design to avoid the old school off-putting religious art and it aims to explore the story of scripture as a story, not a set of disjointed doctrines. I think that’s where the magic lies really. When you let the story of scripture tell itself, it has an authentic vibe. My main goal here was to capture that and channel it in a meaningful way for emerging generations impacted by secularism. 

So, to answer the last question: yes, there are a few questions after each chapter, but those questions are designed to facilitate a community experience. The set as a whole isn't like the traditional Q&A sets with forced questions designed to move someone through an Adventist conveyor belt. It’s a naturally unfolding story.

Why did you feel such a book was needed? Explain more about how The Road is different from traditional Adventist Bible study programs?

There are three things that make this set different to traditional ones. The language is contemporary and fresh. The design is clean and elegant. And the framework is thematic rather than topical, so it aims to tell a story rather than a mere transfer of propositional information.

I felt this was needed because I have a huge passion for sharing my faith with people who have never been to church, and also with young people in church. But most of the resources I was seeing at the ABC at the time assumed a person was sort of Christian already. Worse still, many of them were framed in old language and contexts that are foreign to Millennials, others used forced questions and felt really fake, and most had just terrible design — so yeah, nothing that was really compelling. But rather than just criticize I decided to do something about it.

What kinds of content did you try to leave out of your Bible study program? What kind of content did you make sure to include? Does the program talk about the Seventh-day Adventist Church or is it more generic?

I intentionally left religio-centric questions out because I have never met a contemporary Millennial seeker, in or out of church, that really cared about those questions. So long, drawn out studies on whether the Sabbath is really the first or seventh day, is the law still applicable under the new covenant, why are there so many denominations, is the secret rapture true, and so on. Those are questions churchy people trip over — not emerging secular people (many of whom don’t even know what a pastor is).

Instead, the book aims to include questions that are more existential, deeply human, social, and cosmic. So it deals with the meaning of life and the trajectory of existence while also being rooted in an atonement driven vision of social justice — what I refer to as cosmic justice — and how Jesus is the fulfilment of a true, just, and equitable society.

The program does talk about Adventism, but it focuses on Adventism as a narrative or movement as opposed to Adventism as an institution. When discussing the remnant, it’s important to identify that God’s alternative community — the new humanity Jesus births through himself — is not to be confused with the institutional or culturally established churches. 

For many secular people, there is a kind of relief when they realize that I’m not promoting evangelicalism (which they associate with Trumpism and all kinds of political and socially toxic ideals like patriarchy, sexism, and nationalism). So, in introducing them to Jesus, I want them to know that God’s alternative community — the ecclesia — is not reflected in what they see in Christendom. And yeah, a part of that is in saying hey, I belong to a faith tribe that doesn’t believe in the religio-political legislating of morality, or supporting Israel despite Palestinian displacement, or who conceptualizes of God as an eternal sadist who tortures people forever. So, in that sense, Adventism as a movement is brilliant. But I stop short of suggesting that institutional membership or brand loyalty to Adventism as a “logo” is somehow the thing God is after, because not only does our institution and membership often perpetuate these same injustices, but God is after something significantly bigger: citizens of a new kingdom, not loyalists of a denominational brand. 

In the end, my hope is that seekers will join the Adventist Church but that they do so because it tells a compelling story that is bigger than itself and that this story becomes their identity and not our denominational branding.

Tell us about the experience you have working with young people, and people with no experience of church or religion?

Oh man, so many stories. But if I was to sort of summarize them all I’d say that young, unchurched people today have deep spiritual longings, and they are searching. But in order to reach them effectively we need a paradigm shift in how we articulate scripture at a cultural level.

This really hit home with me in one of the traditional churches I pastor. I noticed a trend after a couple of years. All sort-of-moderately-religious-people who showed up usually hung around and even got baptized. But secular Australians — many Millennials and Zs — rarely hung around. So, I visited a bunch of them to figure out what the issue was. It wasn't the typical “church people are mean or judgmental” because this church wasn’t like that. Their big disconnect was how foreign our culture and articulation was to them. They wanted to know God and learn more about the Bible, but couldn’t wrap their heads around this foreign language and alien conceptualizations and frameworks, so they left. It was super painful, but a big moment that prompted me to do something radical for this generation.

Did you write the whole Bible study guide yourself? Did you get input from theologians or pastors? Did you get approval from the Adventist Church for the content and theology? Did you get help from any other writers or editors?

I’ve been working on it over the last five years and have repeatedly used it, experimented with it, and then gone back and tweaked it. So, in a sense, the book isn't the product of my own intellect. It's the product of many conversations with youth and secular people that have led me back to the Bible and helped shape the final outcome of the book. 

I have definitely had input from pastors but had to be careful because the aim of this set is to seriously contextualize to a younger, increasingly de-churched audience, so I wanted to make sure that integrity remained intact. Sometimes, if you involve too many churchy people who don’t get that space, you end up with a product they are happy with but at the expense of cultural utility.

Who published the book? Is it self-published? Did you approach any publishers?

It is self-published. To be honest, after the experience Jason Satterlund had with The Record Keeper some years back, I was shattered and jaded. I think at that moment I decided, as a Millennial creative myself, that I would use my creativity independently. So that's what I did.

How are you marketing and distributing The Road?

The Road can be purchased on Amazon as a soft cover and you can also get reprint licenses from my website. The links to both are at www.thestorychurchproject.com.

You have an online component of the Bible study program. What does that consist of? 

The online component has two sections. The Navigate Series is a set of training videos and resources on how to effectively engage secular seekers. I wanted to do more than just put out another study set. I wanted to invest in people and equip them to be post-church missionaries because the truth is, a study set can only do so much. The real work has to be done in community, and that means we as Adventists need to develop and nurture our ability to meaningfully engage with our surrounding culture

The other section is The Sightsee Collection which is a series of reflection videos that accompany each chapter in the book. The goal there is to expand on each chapter. If a person does the book alone, I can be their fellow traveler on the journey. But it also exemplifies how to communicate the gospel in a way that interacts with the secular mind so will be of immense value to missional Adventists as well.

Who is your target market? And where are they? Mainly in Australia?

For the sale of the book itself, I am currently focusing on Adventists who want to reach western culture: the US, Canada, the UK, Australia. My goal isn’t just to go out there and reach the culture myself. I want to multiply this vision and mission into the hearts of others and hopefully see a catalyst of new post-church missionaries emerge to effectively connect with our contemporary age. 

So, at the moment, my target audience is missional Adventists. In the future, I will be creating an entirely separate online space that will go directly to the culture. I'm currently designing that with a friend of mine but it's not ready yet.

What feedback have you received so far on The Road?

Incredible feedback. People love how modern it is. They love its design and the way it reads and tells the narrative of scripture. They love that the prophetic narrative is framed within the ethic of social and humanitarian justice and not just dates and future events. I mean, I have gotten so much feedback I could fill up pages, but so far it's been remarkable.

How many copies have you sold?

The book just officially launched on November 5. I have sold a few hundred so far, which isn’t too bad for a relatively unknown pastor in a niche as small as Adventism.

I am hoping to get more exposure over time through word of mouth.

What are your hopes and goals for The Road? How will you judge its success?

My hopes and goals are really just two. First, that through it a new catalyst of missional Adventists can be equipped to contextualize the gospel to emerging generations. And second, that the many secular seekers that surround us will finally have a resource through which they can encounter the heart of God in a way that actually makes sense to them. If those two things happen, I’m happy.

Please tell us more about your background. What do you feel qualifies you to create this Bible study series?

I am a pastor in Western Australia, a graduate of Southern Adventist University, and a cultural aficionado. I have been immersed in the secular contextualization conversation for years now and have written books, blogs, articles, and run a podcast designed for that very thing. At the moment, I am also planting a new church in my city entirely reimagined for secular mission (it launches next year). So, this is definitely my element. And while I am not a secular outreach guru, I definitely believe I have something valuable to offer here.

But more to the point, I believe I am qualified to create this study set because I have messed up in cultural mission more than I like to remember. My list of failures is long, and I think it is those wounds and scars that have fueled this entire process. I’m not some evangelism icon or guru. I am just a Millennial who wants to share Jesus with others, has failed again and again, and learned from each of those bruises to connect meaningfully with people in a way that lifts Jesus up. And that’s really what this is all about.

 

See The Story Church Project for more information about The Road and how to order.

Marcos Torres has written many previous articles for Spectrum, mainly about reaching young people.

 

Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.

Images courtesy of Marcos Torres.

 

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10860

Alright I know I should be able to get through the first 2 paragraphs without having to jump to making a comment but I can’t do it. What pray tell is an emerging generation?
(or emerging secular generation) Then we get to the third paragraph:

You do know Theme and topic are synonyms right?
"Theme

Noun

Synonyms subject, topic…"
Ok, I will try to get back to the interview. But right now I see someone who just likes buzz words and thinks that that somehow makes all the difference.

"What pray tell is an emerging generation?"

A generation that is “new”…or most recent.

"You do know Theme and topic are synonyms right?"

He used the word “thematic” which means that “topics” make up a “theme”…but as long as you are cherry-picking I suppose that I can too! :roll_eyes:

"Ok, I will try to get back to the interview. But right now I see someone who just likes buzz words and thinks that that somehow makes all the difference."

They probably do matter to a younger generation which clearly you and I don’t belong to. :laughing:

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Yeah I don’t buy it. If he is talking about millennials they have been around quite a while they aren’t new and you don’t really emerge into a generation. But if he did mean "new generation? why not say new generation, much more clear or say the new generation of millenialls, or the new generation Z etc. In no case are they emerging as a generation or as a secular generation?

  • The Silent Generation: Born 1928-1945 (74-91 years old)
  • Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964 (55-73 years old)
  • Generation X: Born 1965-1980 (39-54 years old)
  • Millennials: Born 1981-1996 (23-38 years old)
  • Generation Z: Born 1997-2012 (7-22 years old)

It still amounts to synonyms for the same thing. Whether I say topics make up a subject or topics make up a theme I am just using words to convey the same meaning., It is nonsensical to say well my book is better because I deal with topics instead of subjects or vice versa.

While I am here I will mention one more incredible statement (incredible not in a good way).

Really? Let’s see we have had Trump for 4 years and how long have there been Evangelicals and Evangelicalism?. Easily 100 times (first used 1531) that long but they are all redefined now by one President…or worse yet one made up term called Trumpism (at best it is a slang term used by those on the other end of the political spectrum), I don’t recall Clintonism or Obamaism. Maybe some Bushism but that was sort of related to malaprops. Seriously if someone can write a book and not realize and incorporate more history than the last few years into it they are really wasting their reader’s time.

No, I think a bit more highly of Millenials than to think they are impressed by buzz words

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Yes, you ARE a hard man to impress, Ron…but we do get to hold on to our opinions. :wink:

Congratulations, Marcos, for being the author of a Bible Study Guide that has probably been overdue for at least 20 years! Your talent and dedication to doing this is commendable and I am sure that it will be well received.

Please don’t pay any attention to those who cherry-pick and naysay…there’s probably more than a little bit of jealousy there. :laughing:

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Of course, you can hold to your opinions. Though I think it is far more important to support your opinions with reason. Then when your opinions differ from someone else both sides can deal with the differences logically.

By the way I looked on Amazon and looked at the book. I got all the way to the table of contents. That would give me a good idea of the chapter titles…those Themes! Nothing there. just a page with some large geometric symbols. Honestly to not give a table of contents or especially a sample chapter in a self published book is just poor business sense. But I guess that is just my jealousy…oh look would not that have been a great place to give a reason for your opinion. See how that works, I do understand why you did not back the claim to jealously with any reason, being that you don’t have any it would be difficult. But that should be a clue to an opinion that is not justified, If there is no reason for the opinion why have it, would not that just become a bias or a prejudice?

I take the denominational branding comes with Sister White package? How do you manage to make the experience bigger than itself where the story becomes their identity when Adventists do not identify themselves without their “lesser light”?

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Ron, I have no problem with “constructive” criticism but I do have issues with what could be construed as too much petty harshness. I don’t exactly find much creativity coming out of Adventism in general…so, for that alone, I applaud the author.

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Yikes, that’s a bit rough. You forget there’s a human on the other side here?

Emerging secular generations refers to new, up and coming generations.

For example, older secular generations like Gen X or secular Boomers were more likely to be impacted by secular modernism.

Emerging (or new) ones are more likely to impacted by post and meta modernity which doubts science and modern assumptions just as much as it doubts religion.

As far as topic and theme, they can be used interchangeably but also mean different things. A theme covey’s the idea of a continually recurring or unfolding idea (like a story) whereas a topic refers to a static idea explored without a story. This distinction has been used forever in preaching to differentiate between topical sermons and thematic or narrative ones.

Hope that helps.

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This new book appears to be an honest attempt to reach the young generation who are searching for a meaningful relationship with the Jesus of history. Pastor Torres deserves commendation for his honest effort to bridge the cultural divide and present materials that are understandable and attractive to new seekers and youth frustrated by old and outdated jargon. Anyone that pioneers this work can expect to be subject to sarcasm and distasteful opinions. We hope that Marcus will see fruits for his labors.

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Marcos,
Are Ellen White (SOP), Sabbath as a commandment that New Covenant Christians are required to keep, or Sunday Laws in these study guides?

Thanks for your response.

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Thanks for replying, The opening question informed us that the book was for Millennials and post-moderns Neither of which are new generations or emerging.

That is a much better way to express it. Though I doubt topics are any more static than a theme or that a topic certainly in the literary arena exists without a story.

I take it from that comment that you did not have an editor. Because questioning what someone is trying to say is pretty common.

Thanks for the question!

This set doesn’t have a study on EGW for a few reasons. (Btw I do believe in her prophetic gift)

  1. I don’t believe a person needs to believe she was a prophet to be baptized or sda.
  2. egws prophetic gift is not part of scriptures natural narrative arc.
  3. in secular mission, something like EGW is best communicated experientially not propositionaly. So there are two points in this set where I encourage seekers to check out her work but I don’t say anything about her being a prophet. In part 1 after we explore the gospel I suggest they read Steps to Jesus. In part 3 after we explore the social collapse I encourage them to check out great controversy. (i aim for the updated english editions)

This way, they can get to know some of her thinking without the prophet pressure and can make up their own minds about her when its right for them. This study set is not a conveyor belt of SDA culture.

The Sabbath is explored in the framework of rhythm, relationship and social justice not new or old covenant. Secular folk don’t care about that. That’s stuff churchy ppl trip over.

We do explore the possibility of sabbath being a tension point in the coming age of religio-political tyranny, but we focus more on the seal of God than the mark of the beast, and on being in rhythm with God’s heart than complying with rules as the true underlying issue at the end of time.

I get some church folk will completely hate this approach but it’s not designed for churchy folk so that’s ok. :upside_down_face:

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Thank you so much!

Although I dont know you I can tell by your messages that you are a beautiful human :heartpulse:

Our generation needs more ppl like you in our corner!

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Ron, you are not wrong.

Part of the struggle is that I have to communicate in a language that is moderately familiar to church folk and that means often having to use terms that aren’t 100% academically accurate.

So if I said “New Bible Study Designed for Meta-Modern and Zed to Alpha Generations” it would have almost zero marketing value because the church isnt familiar with those terms. So I have to use terms like Millennials and Post-Moderns (even though post-modernism is past) because those terms have more marketing value than the others.

So technically speaking, emerging generations would more accurately refer to Zeds and alphas currently inhabiting the post to meta-modern transition. But you go down that track and the only people who will click the link are academics.

As far as better ways to express - yeah you are not wrong. I can always do better.

Hope these points help.

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yes, not really of much marketing appeal to that and very few know of the Alpha generation being that the oldest of this group is 10 years old and they are completely useless to market to! I would never use such philosophical terms in a book title however as it assumes that the group of people who often don’t even know current civics and even recent history know philosophical terms. But that is up to you. I do have one question however, since I had to look up metamodern. Why if you are trying to reach those of the digital world and internet age would you not put out your book as an E-book? Even better would be an app that allows the owner to type or speaks notes into the app and share their thoughts at least with other app users. Definately more work but likely a far larger impact.

Good question.

The reason why its not an ebook is because the book requires you to write in it/ interact with it and there isnt any real elegant way to make the possible on a kindle ebook.

However, the long term vision is to definitely turn this into an app. Its a very expensive process to do it right though - can easily run up 10g. So hopefully if the print editions do well I can raise the funds to turn it into an interactive app with a slick user interface and animation etc.

Thats definitely the next step!

How do you explain the cross/death of Jesus? Does a sacrifice for sin play a significant role?

Thanks for your response.

So, these things are introduced, but in a softer approach, it seems. Hopefully, those who encounter these topics will explore them outside of the SDA perspective, as well.

You said that you focus more on the seal of God. What do you present in the study guide is the seal of God?